AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Commission held a workshop Wednesday evening to discuss a potential renovation of the aging County Courthouse and County Jail.

Built in 1857 and expanded in 1920, the building’s infrastructure is dated and inefficient. The renovation would update the heating, ventilation and electrical systems, which were estimated to cost more than $2.5 million according to a study in 2019.

The jail was last updated and expanded in 1979, according to a report prepared by Allied Engineering.

Other upgrades would include renovation of the ground floor, which has major mold issues. The project would also complete the renovation of the Probate Office and replace the building’s windows.

The total price tag in 2019 was $4.3 million, but Facilities Director David Cote said he expects it to be much higher now.

The plan includes replacing all 10 steam boilers, which provide heat and hot water, with suitcase-sized heaters. Two of the boilers no longer work and the others are nearing the end of their service life, Cote said.

Commissioner Isaiah Lary of Wales suggested the plan should reconsider relying on natural gas. He said he believes because of political reasons, natural gas may be hard to find and more expensive in the future. Lary also wondered if they had considered central air conditioning for the courthouse.

“I would love to have central air conditioning and I think the employees would, too,” Cote said. “Is it feasible? I’m not sure.”

While the commissioners discussed the concept of renovating the building, the question of how to pay for the upgrades surfaced. The original plan was to bond the project, but the expected arrival of more than $20 million to the county from the American Rescue Plan stimulus package could provide a potential option that would not increase the tax bills for county taxpayers.

“We’re looking to see if we can use the money from the stimulus package so we don’t have to go to bond,” County Administrator Larry Post said.

That comment, “stating the obvious,” sent Lary into a rage, complaining that the county was already making plans to spend the money without seeking input from residents. The other commissioners, shocked by his outburst, repeatedly told him that using the stimulus funds was merely common sense, though Lary continued to complain until Commissioner Brian Ames of Lewiston called for the meeting to adjourn.

At the regular business meeting preceding the workshop, the commission approved a bid from Adams Emergency Vehicles of Westbrook for $34,900.75 to install emergency equipment, including cages, for the five new police cruisers. Adams was the lowest of the three submitted bids. The proposal also includes stripping equipment out of the old cruisers being replaced.

In his report, Post said the county is applying for a safety grant for the facilities department for an air filtration and vacuum system for the workshop. He also said the Sheriff’s Office was working to increase patrols in Poland to 24 hours. Voters there recently decided to expand the policing agreement to 24-hour coverage.

Commissioner Noel Madore of Lewiston suggested that the county look into the rates it charges for being a public safety access point for dispatch services. The rates are charged to municipalities who rely on the county to answer fire, police and rescue calls. Madore said he thought the current rates are too low.

Sheriff Eric Samson said the rates are determined by population and whether the town contracts for all three services or just fire and/or police.

Madore also wondered if the county should incentivize county employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting perhaps a half-day off.

Ames and Lary opposed any such plan, and Sheriff Samson said he did not think it would work with his staff.

“Financial incentives would not motivate them,” Samson said. “Everyone has their own opinion on the vaccine and I respect that.”

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